As those of you interested in such matters surely know by now, Christie’s London sale of Old Masters and 19th Century Art, December 8, will feature the drawing by Raphael excerpted above. Estimated to fetch Â£12-16, it will easily break the record for most expensive drawing ever, jointly held by pieces from Michelangelo and Leonardo, which both sold Â£8.1 in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
It is a pretty astonishing estimate, even for one of the greatest masters of Western art, whose work appears under the gavel only extremely rarely. Not being a specialist, I can only wonder what this says about the market these days, but I will say that it’s a beautiful drawing, even if it is not Raphael at his inventive peak. An auxillary cartoon for his 1510-11 fresco of Parnassus in the Vatican Stanze, it probably supplemented the larger, principal cartoon(s) prepared for the fresco (it shows pouncing marks along the contours, demonstrating that it was used for transfer unto the wall). It reflects rather a state of finalised polish of a slightly rote design than the exhilarating phase of invention where his work tends to crackle with brilliance, with the awareness of life beyond the perfection of his best high-finish drawings.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the sale goes, and as usual we can hope it ends up in a collection accessible to the public, even if its price may preclude that. It should in any case be a exciting sale, including as it does also a long out of view (and if you ask me somewhat rebarbative) late Rembrandt and a large John the Evangelist by Domenichino.